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About Writing

Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews

Samuel R. Delany

Publication Year: 2013

Award-winning novelist Samuel R. Delany has written a book for creative writers to place alongside E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and Lajos Egri's Art of Dramatic Writing. Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers establish serious literary reputations today?), Delany also examines the condition of the contemporary creative writer and how it differs from that of the writer in the years of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the high Modernists. Like a private writing tutorial, About Writing treats each topic with clarity and insight. Here is an indispensable companion for serious writers everywhere.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Further Reading, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xii

If you are a writer, more and more you’ll find yourself writing about writing—especially today, as creative writing classes at the university level grow more and more common.
Writers make their critical forays in many genres: letters to friends, private journals, interviews, articles for the public, general...

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An Introduction: Emblems of Talent

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pp. 1-60

In July of 1967 I waited in a ground-floor room, yellow, with dark wainscoting and wide windows giving onto Pennsylvania greenery. First, four holding notebooks, followed by three in sneakers, two more with briefcases, another six in sandals and Bermudas, then another three laughing loudly at a joke whose ...


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pp. 63-68

The young painter who has set about learning to paint “realistically” is often surprised that the eye must do the learning; the hand more or less takes care of itself. “But I can already see what’s there! Tell me what I’m supposed to do to set it down.”
Keep your hand still and look more closely. ...

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Thickening the Plot

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pp. 69-76

I distrust the term “plot” (not to mention “theme” and “setting”) in discussions of writing: it (and they) refers to an effect a story produces in the reading. But writing is an internal process writers go through (or put themselves through) in front of a blank paper that leaves a detritus of words there. The truth is, practically...

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pp. 77-84

Here are two points about characterization. Both, however, grow from a particular concept of story. A story is ultimately not what happens in the writer’s mind that makes her or him write down a series of words (that is the just discussed “story process”). Rather, it is what a given series of words causes to happen ...

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On Pure Storytelling

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pp. 85-94

I think the trouble with writers writing about writing (or speaking about it) is the trouble anyone has discussing his or her own profession.
I first came across this idea in E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927): you’ll do better writing about something you’ve only done a little of, because you still preserve those first impressions...

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Of Doubts and Dreams

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pp. 95-106

The request to write about your own work—to comment on a collection of your own fictions, say—is, to most writers, an occasion for distractionary tactics. What you do when you “write a story,” like what you do when you bleed or heal, is too simple and too complicated for the mid-level exposition most...

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After Almost No Time at All the String on Which He Had Been Pulling and Pulling Came Apart into Two Separate Pieces So Quickly He Hardly Realized It Had Snapped, or: Reflections on “The Beach Fire”

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pp. 107-116

I am going to be fairly tough in this story. You may find yourself asking, “Does Q— E— really deserve this horse-whipping?” Frankly I doubt it. Though I don’t think I’ve ever met him, chances are he’s a pretty nice guy. Chances are he comes off pretty bright, even in a room full of bright people. Chances are...

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Some Notes for the Intermediate and Advanced Creative Writing Student

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pp. 117-148

You write simply, we might add, so that your assumed intelligent reader can more quickly catch you out when you write down idiocies—and, if that reader is generous enough, so that he or she can bracket those idiocies and go quickly to what’s interesting among the suggestions in your work. From time to time (or...


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Letter to P—

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pp. 151-160

Dear P—,
What a pleasure it was to read with you at La Taza this past Saturday, there on Market Street in Philadelphia. The night’s feeling was rich, informal, and literary in a way I liked. The piece I heard you read was smart, witty, and foregrounded a political...

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Letter to Q—

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pp. 161-180

Dear Q—,
We are two days beyond the first snow. When, this morning, I left my room (I think I told you, Dennis and I have been housed in the back hall of a girls’ dorm), outside stood six rows of bicycles, their handlebars, wheels, and seats piled and puffy, making waist-high arches, white interlocked waves....

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Letter to R—

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pp. 181-200

Dear R—,
I received your letter of February 20, with the enclosed poems, news clippings, biographical statement, photograph, and the opening twenty pages of your novel, Time of Our Regret. Your request for help was moving. Your basic question seems, in effect, How does a writer go about achieving a literary...

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Letter to S—

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pp. 201-206

Dear S—,
Thank you for your letter.
I’ve read through the poems you sent and your story, “Dark Finale.” It’s rather unclear from your letter what sort of response you want. But since you’ve sent them, I must say, what first and most strongly strikes me about the pieces is that they are...


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A Para•doxa Interview: Experimental Writing/Texts & Questions

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pp. 209-270

Samuel R. Delany: I’d like to use your questions as an opportunity to talk about some ideas—and some texts. The texts come from among the alternative, or experimental, pieces I’ve read and reread over the last forty years that have given me much readerly pleasure. I don’t put them forward as any sort ...

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An American Literary History Interview: The Situation of American Writing Today

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pp. 271-298

1. No matter how strict your sense of career as an individual endeavor, do you also find that your writing reveals a connection to any group—political, religious, cultural, national, international, racial, class, gender, sexual, or other? Do you see your...

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A Poetry Project Newsletter Interview: A Silent Interview

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pp. 299-310

Samuel R. Delany: I can’t believe you’re really frivolous enough to think that, because I’m a science fiction writer, I have some privileged, informed, or even interesting take on the future, more than do ditch diggers, dry cleaners, insurance salesmen —or, indeed, the run-of-the-mill poet or novelist. The only ...

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A Black Clock Interview

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pp. 311-336

Samuel R. Delany: I read both. I was an avid science-fiction reader. I read it morning, noon, and night. But I read everything morning, noon, and night. I read lots of literature. And I read lots of science fiction. Paradoxically, the most emotional things that happened to me as a reader tended to come from the science...

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A Para•doxa Interview: Inside and Outside the Canon

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pp. 337-374

Samuel R. Delany: The Oxford English Dictionary devotes two and a quarter columns to some fourteen definitions of the word —from “canon” as rule (from the Greek jamx´ m), through “canon” as “a standard of judgment or authority; a test, a criterion, a means of discrimination,” through “canon law,” the biblical...

Appendix: Nits, Nips, Tucks, and Tips

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pp. 375-419

About the Author

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p. 420-420

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574244
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819567154

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2013